Thursday, June 3, 2010

Writers' Blok and Responsibility

This has been a round for a little while, but I'm posting it cuz I love it and some of you writer types may not have seen it.



Jackson Pearce's novel, SISTERS RED is out in June.

The foreigner population of my town (i.e. 4 people, well really the English-speakers, because there are mountains of Chinese) got to talking last night. All 4 of us are religious and have deep morals, and lots of thoughts about society. So from time to time, we discuss things in a way that would make Socrates sit up and smile.

Last night on the table, the moral responsibility og the author. It started, as many a recent literary argument, with Twilight.

W, the social worker of the group, said Edward was a poster child for spousal abuse. Twilight, she believed, extols the wrong values in a man and in a relationship, and puts this caricature on display for pre-teens as the ideal man.

S, the ABSOLUTE moralist, said it was the responsibility of the author to present truth in their words and to consider all the repercussions of their work.

P, ever the libertarian and the sole male, thought that while some of the responsibility of raising children was the parent's; that society was too quick to let others off the hook. It should be everyone's duty to consider the things they directed towards children and teens.

As an artist, I argued that it was unreasonable to expect an artist to be responsible for every reaction his or her work invoked.

Back to the Twilight example. Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon. From what little I know about Mormon life, there is nothing wrong with a woman educating herself and then staying home to take care of the children, while the huzzers brings home the moolah. The flip side of the coin is that there is also nothing wrong with the husband being responsible for everything that does not concern the home, and the wife being submissive to him.

In fact, not only is this not wrong. It's an ideal. And not just for a couple Mormon women. For many women of many religions. And once upon a time, that ideal was widely believed, even in the secular Westen culture. Back then supporting your husband didn't mean you had the personality of a canteloupe's toe. Nor did it equate to him being an abuser waiting to happen.

So if as a writer, I write something that reflects my ideals - ideals which are NOT OUTRAGEOUS, and were once revered in this very society- and someone takes something else from it, is that my fault?

It's a thin line for me. I don't believe I'm responsible for every reaction my words cause. But on the other hand, I do believe I have a responsibility to use my writing to open people's minds. I've travelled a lot, seen a lot, lived in 3 very different countries, met oodles of people. My strength IS these experiences and I mean to share them. I'm not just trying to convince anyone of my views with my writing either. I've less respect for someone who "believes" the same thing I do for no reason at all, than for someone who has carefully considered all the information and come to a different conclusion. So that's what I do with my writing, present the options. Hopefully in a creative way you've never seen, which makes you consider things you've never considered.

BUT

That's MY writing. I don't think that it's everybody's responsibility to open your mind. Some people were meant to write books which make you laugh so hard, you think you're having an aneurism. Some were meant to write books that would take your mind off your problems. Some were meant to write plots so convoluted that you feel like you could tackle LAPD's unsolved case file when you're done. And every writer should strive to ensure that a reader comes away from their reading with a net positive. They're not in a worse position than where they started for having read the book.

And what about you? What's your social moral responsibility as a writer? Consider the possibilty effects of what you're writing, think about what you want people to come away with, let your true colours shine and above all,

Write YOUR book.

3 comments:

Jon Paul said...

Claire--great post. I agree with you on a lot of different levels here.

I think if you don't get out there and deal with the big issues, get your readers to look at the familiar through a different prism--no matter your point of view--then it isn't really art (here I mean art in the broadest sense). If you don't do that, you run the risk of writing propaganda on the one hand--designed only to influence by pushing an image or message to encourage conformity and not free-thought, or a pile of words with no real power to influence the human heart on the other.

If we don't think we have something mind-changing to discuss in the first place, then what purpose can our novels really serve?

ElbieNy25 said...

In my firts MS my goal is to represent teenagers as tehy really are -flawed. Sometimes they have promisciuos sex, sometimes they dabble in drugs, most of the time their parents AREN'T their best friends, and they have no clue about reality even though they swear they are experts at it.

But what I want my characters to do is stumble, get up, learn, and try again. Not all are going to be successful because life just doesn't work that way. Sometimes you can be "perfect" and your life still turns to crap. Other times you can be a screw up but things turn out very well for you.

I am trying to write my novel, it's sequel, blog, and outline other project ideas. Plus critiquing others work and doing my 9-5 M-F day job. Oye!

inthewritemind said...

It's nice to see someone who has similar moral beliefs. While I'm not Mormon, I have been raised fairly conservative Christian my entire life. Meaning I am of the same opinion of being submissive towards my husband. It's hard to explain to some staunch feminists that being submissive isn't degrading at all--it doesn't mean letting your husband take advantage of you. But in my household, he is the leader (with some input from me) and he ultimately makes the final decisions on things. And I am perfectly OK with that :)

And you're right--you cannot be responsible for every little thing someone may take from your story or artwork. If I worried about that, it would severely limit my creativity! I think in our society, we're always quick to point "blame" at anyone--responsibility is always up to someone else other than ourselves. I could go on and on about that, but I won't :P

Great thought provoking post!